Friday, February 26, 2010

Paradise Lost - by Serhat Unaldi & Chwis Kaeomano

We are a group of friends who, in 2007, spent a weekend in Thailand's troubled South, as one of us is from there and we wanted to visit his family in Pattani. On the first day of our stay we went to see some of the city's tourist hot-spots. After stopping at the shrine for the Chinese goddess Chao Mae Lim Ko Niao beside the Krue Se mosque, where the Southern conflict escalated in 2004, we passed some lesser known parts of Pattani. At one point we reached a small alley that was dominated by the site of big pink building at the far end. Its run-down appearance contrasted sharply with the decaying Thai letters on the edifice reading "Paradise." The building was once a cinema.

--> The Paradise Theater dates to 1981 and in its prime boasted of 796 comfortable cushioned seats. If a blockbuster film drew more cineastes than there were permanent seats to sit on, four additional plastic chairs were added to each row, enlarging the capacity to 916. When "Titanic" hit the screen in 1997, the people of Pattani flocked to "Paradise," which operated at full capacity for many evenings. Once in a while, moreover, the theater was turned into a concert hall and live music filled the air.

Then, in 2004, the Southern insurgency escalated and many Pattani locals began to think twice before going out, especially after dusk. While on the whole, families in Pattani have drawn closer together due to spending more time at home, many once-popular places of entertainment are no longer frequented. Some have had to close altogether. And so, "Paradise" was lost.

The theater's last owner, Khom Akaradej, had to shut its doors in 2006. What remains is a crumbling facade and a fascinating melancholy. A place that was built to make people forget their troubles has turned into a monument to violent conflict. Reality caught up with this purveyor of fiction. Since the lights went out, a flock of swiftlets (nok nang aen) have taken up residence in the Paradise, as they prefer to build their nests in darkness. Birds are also covering the outer walls, where some of the theater's former grandeur has survived the ravages of time and neglect. One side of the theater is magnificently decorated with a painted rain forest - a "paradise." Real plants seem to grow out of painted tree trunks adorned with Toucans and other tropical fowl. Like these South American birds, the whole building seems out of place and time, at the end of a remote alley in conflict-ridden Pattani.


Many thanks to Serhat and Chwis for putting together this great piece of local history! Indeed, it is a new angle on how this once prolific facet of Thai cultural life has come to an end.

Don't forget to send in your own photos and stories of Southeast Asia's stand-alone movie theaters.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Pratuchai Theater - Lampang, Thailand

Psst! Do you want to know a secret? Lampang is a really great off-the-radar city in Thailand's upper north. In terms of urban infrastructure, it is far more sophisticated than both its larger neighbors of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Walking its bustling streets, with its well maintained shop-houses and quaint markets is like a time warp to Thailand of the 1960's. But despite the retro feel, a youthful liveliness pervades Lampang's night hours. There's even a bit of indigenous hipsterism visible if you look in the right places.

I've never spent more than a day at a time in Lampang, but it's always a good escape from the doldrums of Chiang Mai. Shamefully, there are no longer any downtown escapes from reality in movie theater form there. All of them have been relegated to the annals of nostalgia - like the Pratuchai Theater, depicted below.

In its prime, the Pratuchai was one of Lampang's premiere entertainment spots for the city's youth. Aside from a movie theater, it also had a dance floor and roller skating rink circa the 1980's. Must have been the place to take your date if you lived there.

In the wake of showmanship - and make no mistake, theater ownership is nothing less than showmanship - the owner of the Pratuchai is now the Lampang distributor of Castrol Motor Oil. With his theater passed its cinematic days, he uses the auditorium to store cases of the flammable lubricant. Sounds like an insurance claim just waiting to be collected.

Faded lettering serves as a reminder

Enter if you dare!

The Pratuchai Theater was one of a handful of neighborhood movie theaters which once added life to downtown Lampang. Although the town center is now devoid of cinema options, a Thana Cineplex operates inside the Big C Super Center just off the 4 lane highway on the edge of town. As charmless as charmless can get.

The Pratuchai has been shuttered for 10 years now, but the free standing letters spelling out PRATUCHAI linger on as a reminder of the building's brighter past.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Maharat Theater c. 1988 - Krabi, Thailand

This photo comes courtesy of Paul Wagner, who while traveling through Krabi town in 1988 became so enamored with the Maharat Theater's aesthetic that he whipped out the old camera and committed it to film. On the marquee, a movie called ปักหลักชน (Pak Lak Chon) is advertised. To the right of the entrance is a hand-painted billboard for a movie called รับจ้างตาย (Rap Jang Tai, or in English, Employ For Die) and to the left in lighted lettering it says ดุดุดุ (Du Du Du, "Rage").

My own theater expeditions never took me as far south as Krabi, so the current condition of the Maharat is a mystery to me. Chances are that it's died and gone to movie theater heaven, now that Major Cineplex has a branch in town. Dead or alive, it's no wonder Mr. Wagner felt inspired to take this photo. What a colorful sight!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"On the Origins of Theater Projects" - The Trang Rama - Trang, Thailand

It's time to give credit where credit is due. If it weren't for the timely and informed cajoling of a certain comrade here in Chiang Mai, the SEA Theater Project would not be. I had been mulling over the idea of documenting Thailand's old movie theaters for some time before the aforementioned chimed in. This friend and former denizen of my birth city - the City of Brotherly Love - was quick to see that archiving these waning artifacts of Thai social life was a worthy cause. Sometimes its just that little nod of approval that makes the difference between thought and action. So here's to the bright ideas of "Omae Desu," my dear friend and inspiration for this blog, without whom I might have actually graduated from school by now.

Having said all that, I'll be long dead before he ever submits text to go along with the photos he took of the Trang Rama. So I'll take it upon myself and synthesize.

Truck n' Trang Rama

Obscured to the quarter
How the lower half looks

Full frontal

70.00 Baht

Hand-painted hoardings for "Jija: Naughty, Beautiful, Stubborn" and "G.I. Joe" bring color to the Trang Rama. Jija had some really well choreographed fight scenes, but ultimately fell short of being praiseworthy. I will boycott G.I. Joe to the grave.

Buppha Rahtree 3.2 hand painted

The owner of the Trang Rama continues to employ artists to paint movie billboards by hand. For that reason alone they get respect.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ode to the Odeon Rama - By Vince T

I don’t remember exactly when the Odeon Rama opened, but it was the last theater built in Vientiane in the late sixties or early seventies. I used to live nearby. It was the biggest and most beautiful theater in town, with comfy, red velvet seats.
Like all countries in Southeast Asia at that time, Indian and Chinese movies were popular among the local people. It was there that I discovered Bruce Lee, Bollywood and my favorite of all, the Monkey King movies, based on the classical Chinese novel “Journey to the West”.
They also played some Thai movies.
I remember one night when my parents brought me to see a French comedy starring Yves Montand and Louis de Funes. The atmosphere was strange to me that night. The theater was full of French people. It was the first time that I saw such a place filled with Europeans; so many white faces in one room. That night, the Odeon Rama was transformed into a movie theater near Odeon Place in Paris.
The Odeon Rama was one of my childhood playgrounds. My cousin and I used to hang around the theater grounds. One afternoon, we tried to sneak in through the back door. Just as we were about to enter, a woman's shrill voice yelled after us. We were caught. It was my auntie, standing angrily above us. We felt so ashamed. Now we laugh when we share this old souvenir together.
I left Vientiane in 1975 and moved to France. In 2006 I went back to Laos for the first time and stayed in a hotel near the Mekong River. One morning, I tried to find the path leading to the area where I used to live. Without asking for directions, I rediscovered the route towards my childhood turf. Suddenly, I came upon this dirty old building, the first floor was occupied by all kinds of shops. 'Yes, here I am,' I thought. 'It’s The Odeon Rama; so big and magnificent in my memories, but now so small, dirty and sad.' I asked a man: “is this the Odeon Rama Theater?" He replied yes. Then I switched on my camera and took this picture.

Now, like the Bua Savan Theater (Lotus Paradise in Lao), the Odeon Rama has been destroyed. I was lucky to see it as it took its last breath, the place where I discovered the joy of movies, “l‘amour du cinema”.
Great memoir and photo, Vince. I hope that your contribution will inspire others to send in their own.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Peep posts again: The Las Vegas Theater - Bangkok, Thailand

You learn something new everyday, says an old adage. Sometimes you even learn things you actually want to know. In the spirit of learning, yesterday's ignorance has become today's wisdom thanks to a now two-time contributor to the SEA Theater Project. Because of Mr. Peep, the said contributor, all the befuddled followers of this site will now be privy to some seminal information.

The said information: all those Bangkok movie theaters named after cities, states and countries, at one point or another came under the ownership my favorite film exhibition company, Apex. Originally, many of these theaters were built independently of the Bangkok movie theater heavyweight, but after being acquired by Apex the theaters' names were redubbed with an ear for geography. The Pratitpat Theater became the New Orleans, the Wong Wiang Yai Rama became the Hawaii, the Chalermpan Theater became the Chicago and the Klongton Rama became the California.

Following a similar pattern, when the Siam Theater (not the one on Siam Square) was purchased by Apex, its name was changed to the Las Vegas - today's showcase movie theater.

The Las Vegas Theater soon before it met its demise

In addition to solving the mystery of the "location" theaters, Peep let us in on a bit of Las Vegas Theater history, as well. It opened in 1975 under the name the Siam Theater with a seating capacity of 750. In 1980 Apex purchased it and renamed it in honor of sin city USA. Serving as a second-run cinema for the duration of its operating years, which lasted into the late 1990's, the Las Vegas Theater stood on Soi Jaransanitwong 66/1 until just a few weeks ago when it was torn asunder. Nothing remains of this 1970's classic now except for a few photos and memories. Ashes to ashes...

If you enlarge the above Bangkok Post movie section from 1980 you can see all of Apex's theaters at the time listed under "Pyramid Entertainment," the Las Vegas included.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Amornpan Rama - Bangkok, Thailand

One day after officially opening the SEA Theater Project to outside contributions and a submission has already been made. This one comes from Bangkok resident, Peep. The two photos below depict the erstwhile Amornpan Rama in the Bang Kaen section of the Thai capitol.

The Amornpan Rama

This pic is of the Amornpan Rama at Kaset intersection, Bang Kaen, Bangkok.
It's behind the Amornpan Market on Paholyothin Road.
Opened - 1972 / Closed - early 2007
924 seats
Management by Mr. Kowit Tantiyawong and friends.

It has since been converted to a nightclub on the second floor with internet cafe on the ground floor.
Marquee was removed.

When it started in 1972 , the Amornpan Rama served as a second-class theater for many years. Before it closed it became a porn theater with 4 movies all days and the ticket price was 40 bahts for all seats.
Thanks very much for the contribution, Peep! The Amornpan Rama looks like it was a great old theater back in its day.

I'm hoping that photos and stories like this continue to come in, so spread the word to all your friends and family: The Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project wants YOU!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The SEA Theater Project turns a new leaf

With the SEA Theater Project approaching its one year anniversary, a new direction is in order. As your lone English-based representative of movie theater memorialization in peninsular Southeast Asia, I feel that I've hogged the spot-light for long enough. It's time to go public. From now on, anybody with photographs of stand-alone movie theaters from this part of the world can submit them for posting. It doesn't matter whether the photos are recent or old, or if the theater is still operating, converted, abandoned or demolished altogether. We want your theater photos for the public record. The idea is to create a forum where knowledge and opinions can be exchanged through the framework of the cinema.

One thing I will require, however, is a back story of one kind or another. You know, to add a little flavor to the photos. It can be written in one of the following forms:

  • a history of the theater (combined with broader local histories and events is also welcomed) .
  • an interview with somebody who had a connection to the theater (past or present owners, employees, patrons, neighbors, vandals, etc)
  • a personal experience or memory of the theater
  • a travel-log
  • something totally fictional, but nice to read (authenticity is appreciated, however).

Don't worry if you're not a native English speaker. In Southeast Asia most people are not native English speakers, but it's you locals who harbor most of the memories, so please don't let language hold you back. If you want, I will make modest grammatical corrections to your submission.

And spread the word! If you know anybody who might have some movie theater photos, encourage them to submit. They'll be doing a service for humanity.

All submissions can be sent to

We're looking forward to new perspectives from the fast fading world of Southeast Asia's stand-alone movie theaters.

The Projectionist

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Obituaries #2

Ladies and gentlemen, I write to you in a state of melancholy, having just received word of three recent deaths in the Bangkok movie theater world. The Mongkol Rama of Saphan Kwai, the Asia Rama of Pranakon and the Ngamwongwan Theater of Ngamwongwan have all apparently gone out of business.


Mongkol Rama 1963-2010

Asia Rama 1974-2009

Ngamwongwan Theater 1978-2010

Many thanks to Nantawat for delivering the grim news.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Ngamwongwan Theater - Bangkok, Thailand

Here is a 1978 classic in pristine condition; a glistening ruby encased in a residential cul-de-sac. The neighborhood - also called Ngamwongwan - is otherwise featureless. A concrete slab resting over a swamp.

Street-side marquee of the Ngamwongwan Theater.

A river of traffic courses through Bangkok, past the entrance to the Ngamwongwan Theater

The pristine condition of the Ngamwongwan Theater is testament, I imagine, to the pride of its owners. Each and every fixture, from poster cases, to lobby chandeliers and the marquee in front, still has that factory-fresh look to it. The street-side sign continues to cast its neon illumination across the evening road. A time capsule in every dimension save for programming.

Inside the cul-de-sac, the Ngamwongwan dominates

Must be nice to have a classic old movie theater right outside your door.

As keepers of history, holders of an artifact both adored and romanticized, the owners are a suspicious pair. Only a few years ago their revenue was slashed by the coming of an EGV multiplex to a nearby shopping mall. As a result, they no longer control the movie exhibition market in the Ngamwongwan neighborhood. This has soured them to humanity, apparently. Misanthropes, they've become. Despite my pleas, my explanations, my promises of glorification on the pages of the internet, they turned me away. Cold and callous, without remorse. Hence I only have shots of the exterior.

By no means should an owner with an Ebeneezer Scrooge-like disposition stop you from seeing the Ngamwongwan Theater in person. Tickets are only 50 baht, and everything is top quality. The auditorium has been reduced in size to account for the smaller crowds and save on air-conditioning costs, but it's still a treat watch a movie there. Daily double-features are.........

Wait a minute! I'm just checking the listings for Bangkok's double-feature theaters. There's nothing listed for the Ngamwongwan. Could it be out of business?